High Summer

433FB91F-737E-4E55-BC3A-616E1C61CFAE_1_105_cIt is high summer in the garden right now. July is the dry month in RI and the sprinklers are going, the sun is shining and it is a hot 80F at 8:00 AM. Gardening is regional and even within a small state such as RI the coastal gardens move along a bit differently than those in the high (a relative term since the highest point in RI is only 811 feet)western part of the state. My garden is about 568 feet in elevation which may be high enough to avoid a tsunami but it is also high enough to produce winter temperatures which are five to ten degrees below the state average. I garden here in Zone 6a with a maximum low of -10 F. It doesn't happen often but it happens and is particularly damaging when there is no snow cover and when the temperature drops quickly. 

5613C938-89D9-40AE-8FDA-78C8C65908AE_1_105_cDaylilies are blooming and the hydrangeas, depending on variety, are in various stages of bud and bloom. Last year I planted a crescent of Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.  The smooth hydrangeas are much more dependable bloomers in my garden than the big leaf blue hydrangeas. The smooth hydrangeas bloom reliably every year since they bloom on new wood. My blue hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' are often a disappointment. There are no blooms or buds on these plants yet. It may happen but since the flower buds are much more sensitive to cold they can fail to bloom in my high altitude - ha- garden. We did have a quick drop in temperature this past winter which could have caused flower bud kill. I will note here that I do not prune this cultivar until new growth begins and I prune only dead wood above new growth since hard pruning cuts off the flower buds which are formed on old wood.  The white Incrediball hydrangeas should be pruned in the spring. I prune about a third of the growth to shape them and encourage new branching. The Incrediball has a sturdier stem than the cultivar 'Annabelle'. I have yet to find a source for the straight Hydrangea arborescens which is perfectly fine in the garden having smaller but abundant flowers with sturdy stems. Marketing and trademarking have made it a less than profitable shrub. The best way to acquire this species plant is to find a friend who has an old planting of them.

310E3799-915B-44A0-8A5B-9AED18F026D5_1_105_cHigh summer is a relatively easy time for the gardener. Tasks include deadheading flowers, cutting back wild growth, re-edging those borders and water, water, water. Containers are full and happy but annuals do require frequent fertilization to keep flowering and to look their best. It is a good time to take stock of blooms and blanks in the garden and to plan on fill ins or divisions for later in the summer when rain is more plentiful. 87296571-AFA0-43A4-947D-1BAB38134345_1_105_c
High summer is the best time to take advantage of the patio, garden bench or lawn chaise and just enjoy the bonus of blooms from spring's hard labor. Today, in the heat, I am going to sit, enjoy, and relish the warm summer evening.


Personal Garden Strolls - By Appointment

New patio august 2019
The New Patio

As the garden unfolds, slowly this season but with a bit more attention from this quarantined gardener of a certain age, I am thinking of all of those who embrace gardening and all those who have not realized just how gratifying and calming in can be to garden and then relax in the garden. Right now, the oak leaves lie heavy upon the perennial borders and while many gardeners embrace leaving them in place to decompose and feed the soil I have found that they smother many perennials and are better carted off to the compost heap to decompose and then return to the beds as a light covering of compost. Bulbs are an exception and most will push their tiny, mighty shoulders right through the oak leaves. How can there be such strength in something so small and delicate?

Snowdrops en masse

At my age, I have too many borders but I do have a lot of time, especially these days when pestilence lurks seemingly everywhere. So, this year, the gardens should be glorious from all the attention. It is early yet in my garden in New England and just the bulbs are blooming-the tiny bulbs. I am thinking that it might be nice to let people - my friends, neighbors and family know when the garden starts to shine. Not en masse but gently. I am thinking that I could call a neighbor who has never seen my garden and invite them to stroll, alone and at their leisure.

Left handed mitten garden 2019
Left handed mitten garden

We are all looking for safe alternatives to crowded places. Public gardens are closed right now and probably will be for another couple of months. When life begins to return to normal, there may be a new normal with people keeping their distances at least until a vaccine is developed for this latest virus. This could take more than a year. So, that said, just maybe my garden could provide a bit of relief for someone else.

Long border august 2019
Long border 2019

Perhaps no one will come but it may be worth a try. Personal Garden Strolls. That could be just the thing. It might be something for everyone. If you lived close by, would you visit? We could all start a PGS movement. I am still thinking about it.


Milkweed Magic

Milkweed in budJuly has arrived and the long borders are glorious after a cool and rainy spring. Summer is here and while the tended gardens are beautiful, I have a confession. It is not the the glorious flowers of astilbe, bee balm, phlox or even the majestic delphiniums which have caught my attention this summer. No, it is a lowly native plant patch which beacons me and Gibbs, each day, down into the lower back field. Milkweed moundSometimes it is in the morning with a cup of coffee. Other times it is in the glare of the mid day sun. Often it is late in the day. Halfway down between the barn and the lower field, the scent pulls me forward. It is heavy and sweet and as identifiable, once experienced, as that of lily of the valley or lilac. The milkweed patch, Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, has taken root in the well composted horse manure pile of the back field. Milkweed patchAs unromantic a start as can be had. In the morning, the flower heads of the milkweed are thick with dew, in mid-afternoon the patch hums with life and in evening the scent seems the sweetest. To stand at the edge, or even in the midst of a patch of milkweed is a revelation. Milkweed moth and honeybeeThere are moths, bumblebees, honeybees and milkweed beetles meeting for some afternoon delight. A visceral experience of sight, sound and scent. Beetle loveAt the recent Fourth of July party, a good part of the afternoon involved several trips down to the milkweed patch. All who traveled there seemed amazed. I have to believe they were being more than polite and the surprise and appreciation at the life in and scent of the milkweed patch was genuine. There are many interesting facts about our native milkweed. It was named for the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius and as expected it has many medicinal uses. The latex like substance exuded from the plant when it is cut or damaged has been used to treat warts. The milkweed plant contains cardioactive glycosides which gives protection from predators to those insects who ingest it. Good news for the monarch caterpillar and butterfly which feed exclusively on Asclepias species. The silky parachute of the milkweed seed is six times more buoyant than cork and five times warmer than wool. The floret of the milkweed has the ability to trap the leg of an insect seeking nectar.  Milkweed flower closeupA structure called the corpusculum does the trick. This helps ensure pollination as pollen is dispersed as the insect struggles for freedom. The coarse fibers of the stalk have been used by Native Americans to make twine.  You can read much more about this plant from the experts but there is no substitute for standing near the milkweed patch where you can hear, smell and see all the life which it supports. I would not recommend this species plant for the manicured border but there are other garden worthy species available such as A. tuberosa, Butterflyweed. Milkweed and flying beesCommon milkweed is coarse and can be invasive as it spreads from both seed and runners but if you have a sunny field area it would make a great addition to your landscape. Milkweed pod and seedI look forward to visiting the flowering patch which will last another week or two but I know, in mid-October, the milkweed will again please the senses as the seeds ripen, the plush parachutes open to catch the breeze and they lift and float to fields unknown.


Bloom Day -August 15, 2016

BloomdaybutterflyI missed Bloom Day in July due to challenging gardening conditions. Pests, drought, pests. No bother, the season moves along at its own pace. August has, so far, been a month of high humidity, heat and at least some rain. Welcome rain. Every plant looks better with moisture. Weeds included. The warmth brings out the butterflies and today's Bloom Day is sunny, dry and a bit more comfortable with humidity levels down from 90%. BloomdaylimelightDeer do eat hydrangeas but they left me a few blooms on the H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' and H. paniculata 'Limelight'. Both have unique qualities. BloomdaycomboThe Vanilla Strawberry has dark stems and is shown here with coneflower. The 'Limelight' is incredibly floriferous. BloomdayblackbutterflyThe true blue of Ceratostigma is cool relief for these hot days and this butterfly finds it palatable as well. BloomdaydahliaIn August, it is usually the annuals which take center stage.  Here, the dahlias are beginning to bloom. This one is 'Cafe au Lait' and it is quite popular. I find it adequate, preferring bright colors to its bland, cream tone. Bloomday AthenaPortulaca provides a brilliant crown for 'Athena' who hangs on the garden gate.  BloomdaycannaCannas are also blooming and add a tropical look to this summer garden. There is more in bloom but tasks await. Thank you for visiting. A big thank you to Carol at May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day. I hope to visit gardens around the country via her Bloom Day Blog list.


Bloom Day-September 15, 2014

Lemon QueenBloom Day has arrived clear and cool. The end of summer has been quite dry and the gardens are showing a bit of wear and tear. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' is blooming at seven feet tall. It will grow taller but I pinched it in late June to keep it from falling over. The bees do love it. ColchicumWhile I was sleeping the colchicums appeared in the garden. They are a sweet surprise. Lilac is usually a spring color but it is a welcome addition to the late summer garden. Aster Alma PotschkeAster 'Alma Potschke' is wearing her bright magenta sweater. She needs it as it is a bit chilly this morning. Unlike mid-summer when there are large drifts of color in the garden, the late summer garden has bright spots and lots of texture.  Verbena b.This annual verbena has reseeded throughout the garden and it shines this time of year. Each flower is small, just an inch or two across but they wave in the breeze and add a very whimsical look to the borders and vegetable garden. Berkeley Tie DieFlowers are wonderful, they feed the spirit but this Berkeley Tie Die tomato is beautiful and also makes a great BLT. I find the flavor full with bright acidity and a hint of the earth. It is one of my new favorites. I hope that this Bloom Day finds your garden full and lush. Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams for another day of flowers.



Summer Shots

Caryopteris 'Bluebeard'Summer is busy. The gardens have gone from lush to munched. The deer have taken liberties and the gardener has been lax with the spray program. Still, there is beauty to be found in the shortening summer days. Shadows are lengthening and the late flowering shrubs and perennials are starting to bloom. Above, the Caryopteris is attracting bees. I think this one is Caryopteris x cladonensis 'Bluebeard'. HoneysuckleThe honeysuckle has both berries and blooms right now. This one sits by the fishpond along with a Heuchera 'Caramel' which is languishing in the hot sun. ButterflyThe butterflies don't seem to mind the scorched leaves. I have moved this Heuchera to a better site just this week. The real star of the garden at this time of year is the Hydrangea 'Limelight'. LimelightThis 'Limelight' sits in a back corner of the garden behind the house. I really must  add a few more to more visible areas. It lights up the garden at dawn and dusk and this hydrangea will never let you down. It blooms easily and heavily in my Zone 5b garden. Yes, I need to get a few more. 


A Plague of Alliums


Parade of AlliumsI cannot say that this is an original term, 'A Plague of Alliums'. It is one I heard last year on a garden tour from a gardener who was bemoaning the fact that her alliums had reseeded in her garden. The effect was magical. Much more magical than the dire statement. I remember being envious. Globe allium bulbs are not cheap and they have never reseeded for me. Never say never. While I don't have a 'plague' this year I do have many more than I planted. They have seeded in at the feet of the parents and I am quite enjoying the 'Alice in Wonderland' effect of so many perfect spheres. Alliums and geumThey are no trouble. Should I wish to remove them I could do so with a soil knife.  It would be easy to lift and throw the unwanted right into the compost tub or move them to another spot. I would do so if I found them to be a problem. I cannot imagine that happening but editing the garden is a constant, brutal and necessary task. If left undone, Mother Nature will gain control. She can have the woodlands, pastures, meadows and wetlands. I would love to control her as far as rain, wind and temperature go but my only real control is in the editing. So, edit I will. Front Left BorderThe garden looks very serene in early June. The perennials have filled out and are plump, fresh and full. The burgeoning health of the youthful garden in late spring is glorious. I have to remind myself to take time to just enjoy it. 


Heaven Scent


Viola odorataI have been busy in the garden as many of you are as well but I have found time to lie prone with my nose buried in this patch of Viola odorata. Really, if you haven't had the pleasure of this fragrance let me tell you that it is as heady as that of the lilac or lily of the valley but it is unique. I picked many Mother's Day bouquets of common violet and always wondered about that fragrance in bottles of violet perfume. Where did that come from? The common violet had no fragrance. It seems to me that violet perfume was the rage many years ago just as violet nosegays were the rage in Victorian times. I cannot imagine the time it would take to pick enough of these very short stemmed beauties to make a nosegay. If violets were as ubiquitous as people with no jobs then I guess it was all profit but how much could one charge for this bouquet? I could not put a price on this scent. It is now, for me, one of the treats of spring. VioletsViola odorata is native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial, hardy to Zone 5. It prefers rich soil in partial shade although it will grow in sun where the soil is not dry. It is pollinated by bees but I do think I have done a bit of pollination myself with my nose stuck in those flowers. The common violet can be a nuisance in the garden but not Viola odorata. It will spread but it is certainly not as vigorous as the common violet, Viola sororia, which happens to be the state flower of RI. All parts of both species of violet are edible. I long to have enough violets to make this cake. What about you? Have you experienced the scent of Viola odorata? Mine came from Logee's Greenhouse and they also have a pretty pink variety for sale. It is a small and dainty plant but its fragrance will follow you forever.    


False Spring


DSC_0098The recent snow has receded and on Sunday the winds blew strong after Saturday's heavy rain. It felt more like March than mid-January. In the garden there are a few standing grasses, the ever present evergreen shrubs and trees and there are a multitude of seed heads. The variety of seed heads in the garden is quite amazing.Echinacea seedhead
From the stiff and prickly coneflowers all the way to this Sinocalycanthus seedheadgnarly seed head from the Sinocalycanthus chinensis or Chinese Wax Shrub. There is a world of shapes and sizes well in between these two dried garden offerings.  The Chinese wax shrub is relatively new to North America. I bought my plant from a local wholesale grower in CT and according to their information it has only been in cultivation since 1980. The nursery first received a plant from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and they have been propagating and selling it since. Chinese wax shrub is a lovely shrub with shiny green leaves and delicately pink flowers. There really are not tons of flowers on this shrub but it is showy with its elegant leaves. The flowers are just a bonus. Dsc_0031 (3)They are fairly large. Two to three inches in diameter and they do look quite waxy giving credibility to the common name. I will enjoy the memory of them until they next appear. Small gardening chores can be done here when the weather permits. I have gotten rid of that pile of leaves on the left side of the top picture. There are more to rake if time and weather allows although everything was quite muddy on Sunday. It sounded like winter but felt like the winds of March. Winter is not even a month old but winter gets old very quickly. It is over two months until actual spring arrives. There are lots of catalogs to read and orders for seeds must be placed. The chores of summer and fall are a distant memory along with the muscle aches those chores generate and the feeling that there is never enough time in the day to get them all done. Now, I am itching to get back into the garden. I will have to settle for a visit to a greenhouse full of lush plants and heavy, moist air.  Any suggestions?     


Where's Woodstock?


Frozen in flightNo, not the town in New York, the little cartoon bird who skates on frozen ponds. That time has arrived here as on many mornings this past week the little birdbath in the back garden has offered up a solid surface. It is somewhat sad to see but inevitable. Magnolia leafThe magnolia tree, Magnolia macrophylla, has lost its very large leaves and the hosta leaves have either turned to mush or skeletelized as the season progresses. HostaLittle remains of the summer garden and fall has packed up and left even though the calendar gives us another month. Mother Nature rarely looks at the calender though. WitchhazelThis year the witch hazel has put on quite a show. This was planted as a Hamamelis 'Arnold's Promise' but most retail witch hazels are grafted to more sturdy rootstock and this graft failed. It has reverted to that rootstock, the native Hamamelis virginiana which blooms in fall rather than spring. H. 'Arnold's Promise' would be the first tree to bloom here in the spring but the H. virginiana is the last to bloom here and it is as welcome a sight. There are other bits and pieces of color if one takes the time to really look. The hellebore is poised to bloom. Hellebore in waitingIt sits in suspended animation now and will stay at this stage during the cruelest days of winter. If the snow recedes these lime green buds are visible and a reminder and a promise of future blooms. Volunteer violaFor now, this little viola sits shivering in the cold. It would be overlooked if it were blooming when blooms abound but now, in the low light of late fall, it glows in the crack of the walkway. It seems to me to be a miracle in miniature.